*Adapted from a message I gave at a retreat Fall 2016
Scripture tells me Jesus is preparing a place for me in heaven. Well, since God knows the desires of my heart and the way He’s wired me, I’m sure the place He’s preparing reflects that. So then, let me tell you how to find me in heaven:
My place will be the one with the split rail fence. It has a long driveway lined with willow trees and probably resembles a Craftsman. The lawn is cut Lynden style–edged properly, golf course green, with immaculate mower lines. There are sunflowers and hydrangeas, a wrap around porch, hammock out back. The coffee pot is always on. Around me are fields, acres, quiet privacy. No one’s mansion is too close. Heaven is plenty big for me to have ample space, right? I’m a bit of an introvert. I’m independent. I’m self sufficient. I’m an American, dang it!
Summers in full time student ministry are unique. In theory we have some free time without our regular weekly schedule. In reality there are camps (both to speak at and Big Oak's annual GO Camp, which is a huge endeavor), there are weddings to officiate and attend, former students home for the summer to spend time with (here is a group of some favorites celebrating Emmy & Cristian's marriage while they were visiting from Argentina),
and a week of the fair (Sean sets up the Stagecoach's mobile stage and coordinates two concerts a day with the intent of sharing Christ to thousands of people attending the county fair. I'm pretty sure it's also his excuse to mix beats as a d.j.).
Summer is hands down my favorite season. I'm pretty sure God gave me a June birthday because He knew strawberries, bright sun, time for creativity and projects, bare feet, windows rolled down and country music cranked up, would forever define me.
I determined to make this summer a make-the-most of every moment kind of summer for my kids. I don't believe in needing to travel or have a big budget for the type of summers I enjoy anyway.
I was sitting on my cousin's counter, years ago, after helping her get settled in her new house in Phoenix. I was lamenting to my Aunt Nancy. At the time I was discouraged because my brothers were making poor decisions and my relationships with them were suffering. I was explaining to Nancy that I was making noble efforts only to have them rebuffed.
"I took cookies to his new house and it didn't change anything. He doesn't notice my efforts and it isn't changing his life. I don't think I'm going to do anything anymore. I can't be the only one trying. I'm probably just enabling him anyway."
Aunt Nancy kindly asked, "Did God tell you to bring the cookies?"
I was miffed. "I'm sure God wants me to be nice to my brothers. I- I guess I didn't ask specifically about the cookies."
"If you ask the Lord and He tells you to bring cookies and things still don't improve between you and your brother, do you think you could conclude, 'I'm doing what God asked of me and the rest is up to Him'?"
All of my controlling, oldest-sibling, results-driven nerves stood on end.
"Even if your brothers don't reciprocate, you can have peace that you obeyed what Jesus asked you to do in that relationship."
Oh, wait. Something might need to be resolved in me, not just in my brothers?
That warm evening, sitting with legs folded on a kitchen counter amidst moving boxes, I experienced a paradigm shift. It didn't change my relationship with my brothers but it turned my expectations and motivation to the Lord. It freed me from trying to control and manipulate. It stopped me from believing it was up to me to turn things around. It caused me to intentionally pray for them, for my own heart, for God's purposes, in a big sense and in the little daily business of baking cookies.
I read two separate articles a couple weeks ago that left me unsettled. The first was about parenting. It had great Biblical principles about discipline and loving with grace- all things I agree with. Yet something grated on me and I couldn't put my finger on it.
The second was an article on marriage. It was well organized with great helps for marriage: know your spouse's love language, submit to your husband, keep God first and your husband second, only speak edifying words, pray for your spouse. My irritation was building and it surprised me. "What's my problem? This is good stuff." I tried to suppress my reaction.
It took me four days to paint a bunk bed. It would be one thing if I could say “to paint a bunk bed well” but I can’t quite claim that. On day three I was surly, feeling like there was no reason this project should be consuming my week. How did all afternoon only produce a few white boards?
There was that quick interruption when I had to change sheets (twice) on account of a two year old having a rough day and wetting them. Also on the subject of potty troubles, I plunged the toilet twice on account of a four year old who believes one roll of toilet paper per sitting should do the job. It would have been quick clean up if he had thought to get me instead of flushing again…and again… and again until the floor and rugs were sopping wet with dirty water. Oops. That load of laundry included five towels and two rugs.
Then “I just need to switch laundry real quick” turned into “How did the mudroom get this muddy?” which turned into a quick vacuum, dumping muddy pants into the washer, and of course returning to the paint project.
About that time I heard a bus and two more heads appeared with, “Where’s our snack?” ”Here’s my homework.” ”Don’t forget to sign this.” ”I’m still hungry.” ”When’s dinner?”
Dinner it was and well after that before I found the paint smudge on my nose.
After all was quiet and four little eyes were closed in sleep I went to switch the laundry again. Hanging over my old, breaking dryer I recalled my first sobering “I can only do so much!” moment as a parent and how it was ironically spurred by a laundry commercial.
It was the middle of the night and I was nursing a baby in the dark living room with the TV on in miserable attempt to keep my eyes open. I’m certain there was yet more laundry piled on the floor, dried spit up on the couch armrest, and a pile of toys I couldn’t summon energy to clean before bed. I do remember it had been a day similar to the painting day- full of interruptions and good intentions derailed. One of those days you can’t recall what you did, but wow- was it ever hectic.
On came an Electrolux commercial with Kelly Ripa.
Nothing like a tan, perky, put together woman grinning her way through a demonstration of an amazing washer and dryer while I’m curled up on the couch with a nursing baby, bed head, retainers in, to make me feel… un-perky. I’m sorry Kelly, I’m trying to hear what you’re saying but your amazing biceps are distracting me. Will the washer and dryer make my hair silky and flippable like that? I think I may be drooling. (Oh, nope- that was the baby.) Good NIGHT woman how do you get those teeth so white?! Did you pick that outfit? The color is fabulous… how old are these pajama pants I’m wearing?
For a past midnight, delirious moment I believed. I believed when Kelly flicks her wrist full of bouncy, clean laundry, it folds itself. I believed she can pull a tablecloth out from a full table setting without rocking the vase of fresh flowers. She convinced me that every closet is organized, every baby book up to date, and there probably aren’t even crumbs in her car. Does she even know what rotten milk in a lost sippy cup smells like? She probably wakes up and has a good workout before making a hearty breakfast for her family, arrives at the studio for makeup and is professionally stunning by 8am. When was the last time I was stunning by 8am? Thus was born The Kelly Ripa Illusion.
“Okay that’s extreme.” I laughed at myself but as I was burping the baby I stopped, mid-burp. ”Wait. Kelly Ripa has three kids like I have three kids. Sure, she probably has an unorganized closet somewhere but she looks incredible. Wait. How does she work, manage three kids, have calves like that, and do commercials like this? A grocery store trip takes my whole day!” My eyes narrowed. ”Ripa- what’s your secret?” I fought the wave of overwhelmed desperation and grasped for a rational thought. It came.
Kelly Ripa has 24 hours in her day just like I do.
The struggle is universal and though I’ve never discussed it with Kelly I’m convinced she experiences the same battle of expectations; of others expecting her to be larger than life when she sometimes wants to dissolve into a puddle and let someone else mop her up. She may have even suffered a moment of Mom guilt from not enough stories read, not a long enough tuck in, or a snack not homemade enough (but it probably was still organic. Come on, she’s Kelly freaking Ripa.)
I felt myself being pulled by what I hope of myself, what my husband wants, what my kids need, what my church expects, and should I be bringing in some income? Why didn’t I get my master’s when I had the chance? Wasn’t there someone I should have brought dinner to? Oh no, I’ve never even exposed my kids to classical music!
That is how an Elextrolux commercial caused me to cry out to God. “Lord- I will never be put together enough, will never do enough, never have energy enough, never will have a clean car, clean bathrooms, and clean kids on the same day…”
I was reassured. I was reassured that there are enough hours in my day to do what God has placed in front of me. It might not mean Kelly Ripa biceps (but some days and some seasons, it might). It doesn’t mean leisurely quiet time all morning but it does mean I wake before my family to use some moments for prayer and study. It means saying no to perfectly good things when they don’t line up with the very important things. It means being intentional with the time I do have, and constantly asking the Lord what it should look like.
My wise grandmother once told me that I don’t need to chase every passion, every desire, every gift from God in one swoop. She told me to let God dictate which ones get used in which seasons and let go of the rest. (Clearly I’m in a raising kids season so I’m foregoing Today Show appearances and learning that laundry folding/wrist flicking trick… you know… for the kids.)
For the first time in eight years I have a two year old without a baby close behind. I regularly sleep decent stretches and can do more than a grocery store trip in a day. It’s easy to give in to The Kelly Ripa Illusion and overshoot. ”I’ll run a marathon! I’ll write a book! I’ll get a job! I’ll take in another foster child! I’ll travel! I’ll eliminate poverty!”
Then I remember a glowing Kelly, Electrolux, and that I need to ask the Lord “what for this season?”
Apparently this season was a bunk bed. Anything else was overshooting. In fact, my idea to write this “quick fluffy little blog” may have been an overshot. In the previous paragraph alone I was interrupted no less than four times for help on the toilet (what is with these kids!?), for a bike crash, for mud in the eyes, and to reheat my coffee because this is taking altogether too long.
I am not a runner.
When I was in middle school my deepest anxiety was saved for the day we were required to run the mile in P.E. I was an active kid who spent a lot of time outside, on the trampoline, riding bikes. However, any organized sport or running caused a strange reaction I liken to hyperventilating.
You may laugh and have in mind that I’m exaggerating. Stop imagining 32yr old Shilo. Picture with me 12yr old Shilo with braces, perm, and a decently round face that caused my eyes to disappear when I smiled… oh wait. That may happen regardless of cheek size.
I was last in the mile. Maybe you’re rolling your eyes thinking, “I’m sure it wasn’t that bad” but let me tell you- my fear over failing would turn into a side ache by lap one. By lap two I was dreaming up excuses I could use. By lap three every cute guy in the class was lapping me and I was praying they didn’t notice it was my frizzy hair and neatly folded socks falling behind. By lap four the rest of the class was waiting… and waiting… and dear God, am ISTILL doing this?! My run turned into a walk and I resigned myself to acting like I don’t care.
“Your time was 12 min and 45 sec.”
I shrugged. ”I had a side ache. My knees are bothering me. I’ve had this headache. I stayed behind with that slow kid so he wouldn’t feel bad. I ate too much for breakfast.”
Inwardly, “12:45? Sweet! My best time ever!”
The same year I discovered that I’m amazing at the high jump. Best girl in the class. Who knew?! The P.E. teacher said, “We’d love to have you join track.”
“I’m sorry… I feel hives coming on. I can’t breathe. Don’t you have to run in track?” No way. I had resigned myself to not being a runner.
Three months before my wedding my sister assumed the role of personal trainer and got me into the best shape of my life. Still- I made her promise no long distances. I got up to 2 miles of interval running but even in great shape dismissed the running option. ”I suck at running.” I refused to set goals in this area and when I hoped to break through a plateau, I certainly wouldn’t dare say it out loud.
I always told myself, “I’m comfortable not being a runner. So what? I do what I can do. What is safe to do… what I won’t fail to do. Two miles on the treadmill in the quiet of the morning. Done.”
I’ve been realizing running isn’t the only area of my life that this thinking of being safe and sticking to what I know has permeated. Apparently “good enough” sneaks in when anything more risks failure or uncomfortable vulnerability.
I am not a writer.
Since I could form letters I loved writing stories. They were in private notebooks because I knew they probably weren’t great. I threw them away when the notebook was full but it was therapeutic for me.
When I was ten years old I discovered the youngest published author was nine years old. I was crushed even though I had never told a soul my dream to be the youngest published author. I had convinced the “rational” part of myself that I wasn’t a writer but that rational part failed to convince a passionate (yet fearful) kid.
In 8th grade my best friend presented me with a journal. I filled it in a matter of months. I got another one. And another. In 19 years this “non-writer” managed to fill 42 journals.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. And they shall rebuild the old ruins, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations." Isaiah 61:1-4
When S. first found this passage he thought, "This is what I want to do! This is God's passage to me!" Then later the Lord showed Him that this is what JESUS does. Because S. has Jesus in him, Jesus can accomplish these things through him but it is not S. himself accomplishing it.
I would venture to say that in this past year Jesus has done these thingsFOR S. S. has been the poor, he has been the brokenhearted. He spent the first half of 31 "bound". His salvation was never in question, but the war going on in his soul was not making him feel free or healed. Thankfully, Jesus continues the good work He begins in us. This year Christ has given liberty to my husband, He has comforted S. in his mourning, given him beauty within ashes, and has sent roots deep. Jesus is rebuilding old ruins.
I'm confident that God will still use Jesus in S. to accomplish these things in the lives of others. This year I'm simply thankful that Jesus is doing it in the life of the one I love. I'm thankful for a husband receptive to the Lord. S. has modeled humility, determination, and a willingness to receive whatever the Lord purposes.
"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." Isaiah 61:10-11
Happy birthday, Love- I'm looking forward to 32 with you!
Whenever I hear someone speak of needing “me-time” I find myself bristling. I was analyzing this reaction yesterday as I read yet another article advising me about my needs as a mother. Why do I immediately suppress an eye-roll when I hear this term? I’m not opposed to having time in which I choose what I do. I have “me-time” when I work out at 5:15am. I have “me-time” when I brew the first cup of coffee & curl up in my rocking chair with my Bible and journal. I have “me-time” when I have a hot date with my husband. I have boundaries. I believe it’s essential to be healthy regardless of my role in life: to eat healthy and consistently, to exercise, to spend time at the Lord’s feet, & to have a growing marriage. So in this sense I suppose I’m an advocate for “me-time”.
Then it struck me. It’s the way I have heard “me-time” used, not the actual time of me being by myself. This is best illustrated by a moment this summer in which I noticed the contrast. To celebrate my birthday (& celebrate for the first time in over 5 years none of us was nursing a newborn) my sister Jasmine, my cousin Sommer, and I had a weekend at my Dad’s timeshare in Desert Canyon, WA. We were lying by the pool with our coffees when a group of people our age showed up. My sister knew one of the women so we started talking with them. The woman said, “So cool you get a girl weekend! Isn’t it so great to escape the kids? Oh-my-gosh I just so need these breaks or I go crazy!” They then proceeded to haul out their cooler of beers, stack of trashy magazines, and sat at the pool making fun of their husbands.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...